Tennis will never be able to replace icons Roger Federer and Serena Williams, but the new generation of players are “stepping up on both the men’s and women’s tours”, according to Martina Navratilova.
After nearly three glorious decades at the top, Federer and Williams both announced their retirements from the sport in the space of a couple of months.
23-time Grand Slam winner Williams was first to confirm that she is to “evolve away from tennis” after this year’s US Open, although she has jokingly hinted that she could “pull a Tom Brady” and make a comeback.
Not long after 20-time major champion Federer played the final event of his 24-year career at the Laver Cup in September.
Given that both are 41-years-old, it was not a big surprise that they have decided this is the end, but tennis could be having a few more farewells in the next few years as Venus Williams (42), Rafael Nadal (36), Novak Djokovic (35), Andy Murray (35) are also close to the end of their careers.
Navratilova believes it is time for tennis to unearth new gems.
“It had to happen sooner or later. I think the tennis world is very happy that it happened much later than probably would have been expected,” she said in an interview with CNN en Español’s Elizabeth Pérez.
“Normally, tennis players were 30 years old, maybe 35, but then it was over. These guys are in their forties, so I think we were lucky to have them for so long. And now the new generation is stepping up on both the men’s and women’s sides, trying to pick up the pieces.”
The tennis great, though, was full of praise for Iga Swiatek, who has impressed since becoming world No 1 following Ashleigh Barty’s retirement.
The Pole won six titles – including the French Open and US Open – to cement her place at the top.
Navratilova added: “I think women’s tennis is in good hands, with Iga Swiatek at the top and many players who want to get to the top.
“I think that, you know, we can’t replace Roger Federer or Serena Williams, but we can bring in new faces that make us feel better about ourselves and keep us entertained.”
Navratilova also believes a lot of players will continue to play well into their 30s and 40s as they are able to take better care of themselves, unlike in “her day”.
“I think you see that Venus and Serena Williams are the perfect example of that. They played longer than me. I retired when I was 38 years old. Then I came back and played doubles,” she explained.
“But I think that with the money in tennis, people can take better care of themselves. And, also, above all, with the knowledge we have about how to take care of our body. Better knowledge that can prolong players’ careers; perhaps not that they play as much each year, but that they play longer and with better quality.
“So I think the attention is there. Mental health, all of that is being addressed much better now than in my day.”
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